In its most basic form, a library is any place a collection of books is stored. Sounds pretty mundane right? Lucky for us bookworms there are quite a few libraries out there that are anything but run-of-the-mill. Whether they’re  ultra-modern or from the Middle Ages, these libraries are more than worthy of a visit on your next trip.

1. National Library of Belarus – Minsk, Belarus


Completed in 2006, this 22-floor library was constructed in the shape of a “rhombicuboctahedron”. If you’re not already familiar with this geometric shape (8th grade geometry anyone?), it’s composed of eight triangles and 18 square faces and makes for some impressive architecture. The design is supposed to symbolize the vast knowledge humans have placed in books.

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Stunning in the day time, once nightfall hits the library takes on a whole other personality as 4,646 LED fixtures installed in the glass facade turn on and start to change color, creating an epic light show.

2. Real Gabinete Portugues Leitura – Rio de Janeiro

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The name of this exquisite library translates to “Royal Portuguese Reading Room” and it represents the largest collection of Portuguese literature outside of Portugal. It was built between 1880 and 1887, and its entire limestone facade was actually carved in Lisbon and brought to Rio via ship. Everything inside the library is over-the-top Gothic Renaissance. Incredible wooden carvings, paintings, a stunning chandelier and massive skylights make this library one for the ages.

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3. Seattle Central Library – Seattle, Washington

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Opened to the public in 2004, it’s no surprise this library turned out ultra-modern – it was partially funded by a grant from Bill Gates and the architect wanted to convey a feeling of the “digital age”. With an irregularly shaped exterior and an angular, light-filled, and colorful interior, the library has drawn heavy criticism – critics of the design think it seems a bit cheesy and cold to visitors. Although it might not be a darling in the design world, visits to the library have doubled since it was built. Seems like a success to us.

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4. The Holy See – Vatican City, Italy

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Although the Vatican Library, or The Holy See, was officially established in 1475 its collection dates much farther back than that. Arguably the most important historical archive in the world, it contains 75,000 manuscripts and over 1.1 million books, many of which are of huge historical and religious significance. Lucky for the general public the library is open to everyone, as long as they can provide documentation for why they need to access the library for research purposes.

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Along with the incredible treasures the library possesses, parts of it are also very beautiful. The library’s Sistine Hall is one of the most stunning and is covered with intricate frescoes telling biblical history.

5. Geisel Library – La Jolla, California

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Whether you love it or hate it, University of California San Diego’s library is pretty unforgettable. Designed by brutalist architect William Pereira in the 1960s, the 8 story structure stands 110 feet above the campus below. Along with a unique design, the library also has a unique name. It was dedicated to Theodor Suess Geisel, or Dr. Suess, who lived in San Diego and contributed funds to the library.

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6. Trinity College Library – Dublin, Ireland

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The Trinity College Library is the largest library in Ireland and has many branches and buildings. The most incredible however is the Long room in the Old Library. The massive two story hall contains thousands of historical texts with classic library ladders to reach them. It is also home to the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript from around 800 that is considered one of Ireland’s national treasures and is on permanent display in the library.

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7. State Law Library of Iowa- Des Moines, Iowa

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This magnificent Renaissance-style library was built in 1884 within the Iowa State Capitol Building. Everything about the library is over-the-top and grand – marble walls and floors, classic chandelier, a five-story atrium and two circular cast iron stars that extend from the ground floor all the way up.

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8. José Vasconcelos Library – Mexico City, Mexico

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When former president of Mexico Vicente Fox inaugurated the José Vasconcelos Library in May of 2006, he praised its innovative design and advanced technology. Although he spoke highly of the library, his enthusiasm for the construction was short lived. In March of 2007 the library was forced to shut down after multiple safety and construction issues were found in the building. It took 22 months to complete the repairs, and the library was finally open to the public again in 2008.

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Named for a controversial Mexican philosopher, the library cost almost 100 million dollars to build. And aside from its modular, new age design, the library’s most distinguishing feature is the gigantic sculpture that is hung in the entrance of the library named Ballena (Whale).

Article by Rachel Greenberg, originally written for NileGuide